Neither Fort Hood nor Hollywood: Warriors' Stories

To the schism arising in public attitudes about our foreign conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, we add the Ft. Hood reminder that military service raises dangers beyond reckoning for warriors.
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Public capacity to be shocked by tragedies has been sadly diminished as each year brings a different take on the unimaginable, yet the horror at Ft. Hood seems to have penetrated both media clutter and the overwhelming challenges many Americans face in their personal lives. Despite 24/7 punditry and all-hands-on-deck investigative journalism, much remains unknown about what may have led Major Nidal Malik Hasan to gun down more than 40 brothers and sisters-in-arms, killing 13 of them. Some focus has already been placed on Maj. Hasan's professional role as an Army psychiatrist, and the notion that post-traumatic stress could have "secondary" damage -- that constant exposure to the memories and agony of others must have a destabilizing impact on any psyche. That may be so, and doubtless we'll hear both speculation and medical evidence in the days to come, but as we head toward Veterans Day on Wednesday, I believe that the more responsible course for citizens to take is to try to seek out more stories from more veterans -- not merely to assist them in their efforts to achieve understanding and closure, but to ensure that we comprehend, directly and personally, the nature of the sacrifice we expect but seldom viscerally appreciate.

For many Americans, Veterans Day passes quietly between the hoopla of Halloween and the warm nostalgia of Thanksgiving. In that way, the reserved nature of Veterans Day beautifully captures the quiet heroism of those who have defended us -- but at the same time, our warriors' very humility intensifies our civilian responsibility to honor and reflect. To the schism arising in public attitudes about our foreign conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, we add the Ft. Hood reminder that military service raises dangers beyond reckoning for warriors -- and their families -- before, during and after battlefield service. Far differently from the 1960's, both sides of the policy debate reflect the undisputed and profound respect for our war heroes resonating throughout America.

At its most basic level, Veterans Day's has the status of a national holiday in hopes of engendering a profound appreciation for the sacrifice we have grown to expect from our military. But the challenges of modern life, increased by the pressures brought by a recession, make it natural for anyone on the homefront to focus on the personal. Just as we bear a collective responsibility as citizens when our men and women are in harm's way on our behalf, so should we recognize the unique challenge that their pain, hardship and suffering pose for us: are we living our own lives in a manner that justifies their sacrifice?

I fall short of that standard every day, and far away from foreign conflict, I will never fully understand the intensity of what our warriors endure. Most of us live our days in a cocoon woven with the sweat and blood of others. If we do not share their burden, we should at least seek out their stories. It is an opportunity to enrich our lives and perhaps to bring some small measure of balm to theirs. We owe at least this much to them, and to ourselves.

This Veterans Day, I plan to honor those who served our country by watching their stories and then becoming more involved in veterans' issues. The documentary films below capture experiences from vastly different wars, including accounts from WWII, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. These SnagFilms offer a way to engage and inform vast audiences -- and grant to each of us the chance to spend a quiet moment with those to whom we owe so much. Veterans Day is a single annual holiday that should spark daily appreciation. So whether it's on Wednesday or any day, seek out a vet, or a veteran's family, and watch one of these films with them. Hopefully it will spark a discussion about their own experiences, nightmares and aspirations. You'll see that we are also spotlighting one of many wonderful organizations founded by and/or working with vets -- we believe in "filmanthropy," the power of each great film to stimulate a debate and catalyze informed action. We hope that these films will have that impact, and we urge everyone to seek out veterans groups in your hometown or active on issues of particular importance to you. Dialogue and action so should be more than a transitory duty for each of us -- together they can help us forge from conflict greater unity and purpose.

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